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Manchester United defender Chris Smalling finds himself as a subject of intense transfer speculations ahead of the Premier League season kick-off. The 27-year old has been a long-term target for West Bromwich Albion, but now is being pursued by fellow English club Leicester City as well, according to reports from TransferMarketWeb.
Smalling has had a highly inconsistent career since his big move to United back in 2010 from Fulham. Signed by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, the England international had a hard time fulfilling the lofty expectations. Having struggled in his early years at Old Trafford, it felt like he was finally coming of age in the Louis van Gaal era, when, on the back of several top class displays, he was made the third captain of the club.
However, the bout of inconsistency kicked in again last season, as the England international endured a tough time under new boss Jose Mourinho. Injuries combined with unconvincing displays have meant him finding himself close to exit doors, with the likes of Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, new signing Victor Lindelof all ahead of him in the pecking order.
However, there are no shortage of suitors for Smalling, in case United decide to let him go before the transfer window. With West Brom and Leicester both vying for his signature, who should the 27-year old choose?
West Brom, under the able guidance of Tony Pulis, have developed into a consistent upper-half table side in the Premier League. They did falter at the back end of the season last time around, but knowing Pulis, he will be gunning hard to improve, after the spoils last season.
The backline remains a major point of concern for the Baggies that needs addressing at the earliest. They have only three recognised centre-backs in the squad in the shape of Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and loan signing Ahmed Hegazy. And with McAuley turning 38 in a few months’ time, a new centre-back coming in is a must.
Smalling fits the mould of centre-backs Pulis usually likes and the fact that the manager has been chasing him for a couple of seasons now only implies that the former Stoke City boss clearly believes in the Manchester United man and thinks that Smalling can be of value to the team. Also, the 27-year old can look at how former teammate Jonny Evans has evolved under Pulis, after leaving the Old Trafford for the Hawthorns.
On the other hand, Leicester are embarking on a new project under Craig Shakespeare, after he was appointed as the permanent manager following his rescue act after taking over as caretaker from Claudio Ranieri. Leicester will be keen on improving and will aim to break into the top-ten this season.
Their centre-back partnership of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, which was the cornerstone on which the 2015-16 league title triumph was built upon, was in shambles for most parts last season, but did recover towards the end of the season. Shakespeare has addressed this already and is making sure that the issues don’t come to haunt them this time too, by signing another promising English defender Harry Maguire from Hull City.
With Yohan Benalouane also in the mix, it does seem like Smalling might not get as many first-team opportunities at the King Power. While Smalling has the quality to displace all of them from the starting XI, it is unlikely that Shakespeare would drop both Huth and Morgan from the line-up, meaning that the Englishman will be competing with three other defenders for one slot in the line-up.
So, the choice seems pretty obvious between the Foxes and the Baggies. West Brom will offer him more first-team opportunities than Leicester and that should be the priority for Smalling given that it is a World Cup year. Also, the fact that Pulis has done wonders with Evans since he left United and has been wanting to sign Smalling for a long time now should be enough to spur him to choose a move to the Hawthorns instead of the King Power Stadium.